Ever since we set off in June one of my goals was to take ‘Money Penny’ back to La Rochelle, her place of manufacture. I had visited La Rochelle previously by car on two occasions and enjoyed the ambience of the city , with its smaller marinas right in the heart of the main restaurant area. The sail from Joinville on Ile d’Yeu had taken us down the back of a very long island called Ile de Re, this waterway is sheltered and rammed full of mussel beds so careful navigation was called for. At the far end of the island near La Rochelle is a huge bridge servicing the island. Having checked the height of the bridge I worked out that Money Penny with her 16.4 meter tall mast would pass underneath (a vessels ‘air draft’) however there is always a point when you doubt your calculations passing under a bridge, this one was high enough.
We arrived in La Rochelle on a cold dank evening, and decided to use the massive marina at the mouth of the river and some 20 minutes from the city centre. (The marinas in the centre are controlled by tidal locks and only open at high water) This is the biggest marina on the Western Atlantic with some 4500 berths. Its huge, and full of some very expensive boats. The system is to go alongside the visitors berthing, report to the office and they allocate you a berth on a map which they give to you. Back to your boat and find your berth for the night. Easy!
We were lucky that the La Rochelle boat show had just finished the previous week and there was room to spare in the section vacated by the show vessels. An evenings walk took us passed workers busily taking down large marques ready to move onto some other sort of festival or show.
The following morning was spent wandering around the city centre with its twin turrets and outer stone defensive walls containing narrow streets with hundreds of food outlets, and the majority of shops set under stone arches. The centre is very picturesque, clean,and well laid out. This is the sailing capital of France and the afternoon was spent walking back via the chandlery stores and boat yards, eyeing up yachts Jude and I could never hope to be able to afford. We can always dream. I think the boat show marked the end of the sailing season in France and I found the marina very quiet. Maybe it was because my thoughts were set on the task ahead, which was to sail some 220 miles in one go, across the Bay of Biscay.